When you think of a career in law, most people visualise a criminal defence barrister or a judge, as this is the role that is most often portrayed in the media.
However, there are actually a vast range of legal roles that you can pursue if you’re considering a career in law. The legal experts at BPP University Law School have uncovered some different law jobs that are out there and highlighted the educational and experience-led routes you can take to achieve them.
The popularity of a career as a solicitor is ever growing with a significant increase from 128.2 thousand people in 2010 to 143.4 thousand people in 2021 taking up this profession in the UK.
So what exactly does being a solicitor entail?
Solicitors deal with legal interests and provide advice directly to their clients, also representing and defending their clients in certain situations. Most solicitors usually specialise in one or two areas and work independently, in law firms or in-house in the legal departments of large companies. There are so many areas of law, from personal injury to huge corporate transactions so it can be a very varied career.
Education required: To become a solicitor you will need to achieve either a Law Degree or a Post Graduate Diploma in Law (PGDL), followed by taking the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).
Another route that can be taken for those without a degree is a solicitor apprenticeship, which can take around six years to complete and requires candidates to pass the SQE (SQE1 and SQE2) before qualifying as a solicitor. In order to qualify for an apprenticeship, you will need to have five GCSEs with grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), alongside three A-levels.
The barrister profession is extremely competitive and challenging with statistics from the Bar Standards Board showing that out of 1,685 students enrolled on the Bar Professional Training Course in 2019/2020, only 854 completed the course.
What does a barrister do?
Barristers are instructed by solicitors to act on their behalf and represent their clients in court cases. A barrister’s role is to use their expertise to persuade the judge (and jury in criminal cases) that their client’s case is the right one and defend their client or prosecute the other party.
Education required: To become a barrister, you’ll need to have a Law Degree, or alternatively if you’ve done a non-law-related degree, you’ll need to follow this up with a Post Graduate Diploma in Law (PGDL). The most competitive step of becoming a barrister is completing the Bar Training Course, which takes one-year.
The Paralegal profession is very popular amongst graduates or entry-level candidates looking to move into the legal field and is one of the largest professions in the legal jobs industry with around 100,000 paralegals working in the UK.
What does being a paralegal entail?
A paralegal is a member of the legal team who is not a qualified solicitor or barrister, but who has a wide knowledge of legal matters and is qualified to conduct some legal work. This role offers support to lawyers, by completing tasks such as preparing documents or doing administration for court cases.
Education required: There are a variety of avenues you can take to become a paralegal from more educational routes to more hands-on experience.
Often, paralegals have already obtained a Law Degree or a non-Law Degree followed by a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or the Solicitors Qualifying Route (SQE).
Alternatively, those looking to use work experience as their route into becoming a paralegal can undertake an Apprenticeship that offers practical work experience for a salary with the potential of securing a job afterwards. There is also the option of taking an administrative support role in the legal field and progressing up towards becoming a paralegal through on-the-job learning.
Becoming a Mediator, sometimes referred to as an arbitrator or conciliator, can be a great career for natural-born negotiators, with salaries for a family mediator being between £18k to £35k yearly.
What does a mediator do?
The role of a mediator is to be an impartial third party that helps people to settle their legal disputes outside of court through alternative dispute resolution (ADR). They use their skills of negotiation and communication to help find resolutions and a middle ground for both parties in situations such as divorce, family matters, housing or commercial disputes.
Education: Whilst you don’t need a specific degree or qualification to become a mediator, taking courses and gaining experience will massively increase your credibility with an employer. For example, if you are looking into becoming a family mediator, a foundation course in Family Mediation Council (FMC) would be a great place to start. Mediators are often qualified solicitors or barristers and might offer mediation as part of their practice.
Many legal executives undertake a CILEx qualification with the institution having around 7,500 qualified Chartered Legal Executive Lawyers as members.
What responsibilities does a legal executive have?
Legal executives are a type of lawyer that hold chartered status and have studied at the same level as a solicitor, however, their training is more specific to certain topics. This role requires the legal executive to provide legal advice to clients, communicate with other legal professionals on behalf of clients and assist in presenting cases in the courtroom.
Education: To become qualified as a legal executive you will need to pass the CILEx professional qualification in law and become a member of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). This can be achieved by completing a minimum of three years of supervised legal experience, where you will learn on the job in a legal environment and specialise in a particular area.
Alternatively, you could undertake a law degree, or a non-law degree followed by Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). You can then take the CILEx Graduate Fast-track Diploma, which can be completed in 1 year.
Legal secretaries in the UK make an average salary of £23,000 per year for an entry-level position, reaching £31,500 for more experienced secretaries.
What does a legal secretary do?
Legal secretaries provide admin support to lawyers, file legal records, schedule meetings, transcribe and type up legal documents, and are the first point of contact for clients.
Education: Becoming a legal secretary doesn’t require any specific education and many candidates start as a secretary in a legal organisation and expand their knowledge of law over time. However, if you want to fast-track your experience to reach higher levels and salary bands as a legal secretary, you can take a Legal Secretary Course.
When looking at their background 32% of court judges and 63% of tribunal judges were previously solicitors, meaning if you have aspirations to become a judge, don’t be disheartened if you’re not a barrister.
What is the role of a judge?
The responsibility of the judge is to conduct court proceedings and ensure all members of the courtroom are following the rules and that questioning is fair. The judge will keep the jury informed and make sure that evidence from witnesses and defendants is presented to the jury in a fair manner. The judge will then summarise the points of both parties to the courtroom and the jury will reach a correct verdict.
Education: To become a judge, academic qualifications will be required alongside around 7 years of experience working in the legal sector, but there is a range of routes you can take to achieve this.
If you are taking the traditional educational route, you can undertake a law degree, or a non-law degree followed by a Post Graduate Diploma in Law (PGDL). This will then need to be followed up by either the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).
You can also take the route of an apprenticeship to qualify as a solicitor apprentice, gaining experience for around 6 years.
Magistrates are volunteers that sit in courtrooms in groups of two or three and hear cases in the criminal or family court. A magistrate will be expected to serve for around 5 years and be at court a minimum of 13 days a year.
What does a magistrate do?
A magistrate does not have to be legally qualified but will need to undergo training and have an allocated mentor that will explain situations for their first year in the role. Magistrates will often work on less serious criminal cases and hand out short sentences and penalties, with larger cases going to the Crown Court.
Education: Whilst you will not need any academic qualifications to become a magistrate, you will need to undergo mandatory training beforehand, which usually takes around 3-4 days and have a mentor in the form of a legal advisor for the first 12 months.